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Bill would scrap plan to protect Mississippi River

Apartment buildings are on Mississippi River bluffs across the water from Crosby Farm Regional Park in St. Paul, Minn., Feb. 23. A bill in the legislature may limit the ability of the Department of Natural Resources to develop guidelines for development along the river. (AP photo by Jeffrey Thompson, Minnesota Public Radio)

St. Paul, MN (AP) — A plan two years in the making to protect the 72 miles of the Mississippi River running through the Twin Cities could be scrapped if a legislative proposal is green-lighted.

The state Department of Natural Resources worked with interest groups and local governments to draft new rules guiding development along the river. Minnesota Public Radio reported Monday the rules include building height, distance from the river, land-clearing restrictions and requirements for controlling runoff.

But work on the rules stopped in January because of a state deadline on rulemaking. Legislators want to keep it that way by stripping the DNR of its rulemaking authority. The initial push for stricter rules was driven by concerns over pollution and preserving the region’s aesthetic quality.

Whitney Clark, executive director of Friends of the Mississippi River, pointed out a three-story condo near Fort Snelling as an example of development too close to the riverfront. Its foundation is about a foot from the edge of the bluff, which is eroding.

“The developer here was following the rules,” Clark said, “and the rules weren’t protective enough.”

Water quality is another concern. The Department of Health advises people to limit their consumption of fish from the Mississippi, and runoff from yards and streets flows directly into the river.

Sen. Benjamin Kruse, R-Brooklyn Park, is sponsoring the bill to lift the DNR’s rulemaking authority. He said people and businesses along the river already work to protect it, both for its scenic and economic value.

“Even if you have to boil it down to that,” Kruse said, “they understand that caring for this river, caring for the shoreline, is fundamental to preserving their property values.”

The Legislature directed the DNR to create the rules two years ago. Two years before that, the DNR hired Friends of the Mississippi River to gather input on what should be done about the river.

DNR hydrologist Jeff Berg said the department needs more time to continue the work and make sure all voices are heard on the issue.

“We got a lot of involvement from local governments, business interests and environmental organizations,” Berg said.

“So I think we had the right people at the table. You could pick up tomorrow, next year, a couple years from now, and it’s still a good starting point.”

The bill has passed the Senate but has yet to have a hearing in the House.

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